Lent 2015

A few weeks ago I stumbled upon The Words and find myself drawn repeatedly to them, mesmerized by them, hungry for them….challenged by them.

I’ve not yet read all of the words – at least not in this format.

I’ve chosen to do so during Lent.

Here is my reading for today.

Blessed are you who hear the word of God and follow it where it leads. In doing so, you will be like the servant who, when the master comes, is found doing right.

Blessed are you, who put your whole trust in God. Yours is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you, who are acquainted with sorrow, for you will be appointed great comfort and courage. Blessed are you, who with humility recognize your need of God. The whole earth will be yours. Blessed are you, who hunger and thirst after righteousness. You will be satisfied and filled. Blessed are you, who are merciful. You will receive mercy in return. Blessed are you, who are pure in heart. You will see God.
Blessed are you peacemakers, for you will be called the children of God. Blessed are you, who pursue salvation. You will become the citizens of the kingdom of God. Blessed are you when you suffer blame and are spoken of evilly for doing my will. Rejoice! Leap for joy! Great is your reward in heaven. In a similar manner, they persecuted the prophets before your time.  (The Blessings)

 

Final Day of Lent 2014

“Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” Galatians 1:10 (NIV)

Six and a half weeks ago I began my blog post with Galatians 1:10, just as I’ve begun this one.

It was the first day of Lent and a long journey stretched before me.

Galatians 1:10 was the platform from which I launched my 2014 Lenten journey.

This journey has taken me into myself and beyond – into the mind and heart of Jesus.  And, it has revealed much about both. Some…I knew already.  Other things…I thought I knew but was mistaken about.  And, much…well…I had/have a lot yet to learn.

Today marks the final day of my Lenten “fast” where I “gave up” seeking the approval of others.

How have I done?

Ha!

Let’s just say this journey doesn’t end with Easter’s sunrise.

Easter simply marks the beginning of the next stretch of my journey into becoming someone who seeks God’s approval above all and chooses to live above and beyond the noise and clatter of the demands for the approval of those around me.

May God give me the strength, the courage, the wisdom, and the foresight to speak, the to refrain from speaking, to act, to love, to live in truth, seeking only God’s approval even if that means I let the chips fall where they may and those around me wag their heads in disapproval and misunderstanding.

Resurrection morning is coming and with it, the power of Spirit Living.

40 Days of Lent – Today

I’ve one week to go in my Lenten journey.  Choosing to do my own thing, I’ve not taken Sunday off (as is the custom of some).  That means I’m on day 40 and have 7 more days to go.

This journey has been a difficult one – a struggle in which victory seems beyond reach.

I am easily overcome…overwhelmed…by the expectations of others.  I want to please Jesus and live confidently into who I am, what I am, and who I am becoming – but I find myself drawn again and again into the old habit of pleasing people.

I want to celebrate Christ in me and embrace who God (Father, Son, Spirit) is growing me to be. I want to move beyond all that clutters and distracts and free myself to live fully a life that is pleasing to God. But, I’ll be honest – some days I am so wrapped up in the expectations of others that I don’t even give a thought to what God expects of me.

A minimalistic lifestyle – that sounds so good to me. But, instead of less I find more being piled upon me.

The expectations of others clutter my life, my thoughts, my hopes and dreams.  They create static that blurs the reception of those things Gods desires, expects, hopes, dreams of me and for me.

As I look around me, I see the desires and expectations of others oh so evident – in my life, in my thoughts, in my emotions, in my struggles, in my time invested, in my house, in this room….

Two things are evident to me as I share my thoughts.

My attention to the static from others interferes with my ability to see plainly the way of Jesus and to walk confidently.

Note that I said “My attention to” not “the static from others” – the problem is that I’m allowing the expectations of others to affect me…bury me…conquer me…run-over me…overcome me…prevent me from…overwhelm me.

The problem is MY ATTENTION to the expectations of others.

I need to become indifferent…unflappable…unconcerned…unmoved…unbothered by the desires and expectations that others place on me.  .

But how do I accomplish that?  And, what do I do with the negative feedback that I will receive from those who expect me to be otherwise? (Vicious cycle, isn’t it.)

My focus must be on the desires and expectations that God has for me as a follower of the Way of Jesus.

And, the only way that I know to do that is two-fold:

  1. Get rid of everything that others expect me to have, to hold, to take care of, to be, to do, to be a part of (a good place to begin would be with a big box – maybe several of them – and just place everything that I don’t care for or didn’t invite/want in my life in it, or that no longer fits who I am or who I am becoming).
  2. Immerse myself in God’s Word and in prayer, seeking above all to know and to follow the Way of Jesus and lean hard into living a life that seeks God’s approval and not that of people – becoming who God has and is creating me to be.

I’ve 7 more days of Lent.

Do I expect to emerge Easter morning a new creation?  I’ll admit…I’d hoped I would.

No. This ugly caterpillar is going to require more than just 47 days for her transformation to take place.  Morphing into a beautiful butterfly might be possible if I could isolate myself  and live in a cocoon for the duration…40 days in the proverbial wilderness…and emerge changed…new…different.

But, one thing I do know…when I placed my faith in Jesus and began my journey in the Way of Jesus, I became that new creature – old things passed away and all things became new.

The problem is, I keep going back to that old way…it seems so…natural and familiar.

And, complicated and cluttered and frustrating and consuming and….

Stupid of me, isn’t it.

Today is Palm Sunday – the beginning of the walk that leads to the cross.

The cross…that’s where my focus needs to be these next 7 days.

34 Days into Lent

I’ll be honest – life got in the way last week and shoved Lent aside.

Did I live into pleasing God and not people? I don’t know. I lived and loved and leaned hard into what each day presented me.  Without pausing to consider whether a thing was done with the purpose of pleasing God or people, I acted and sometimes I reacted.

As I pause to reflect on last week, I can see that there were times when my actions reflected change that has come about due to my Lenten journey.  And, I can see frustrations that came about because I opted to do what would please others and not seek first to please God.

Had I sought first to do that which would honor and please God, I would have been honest with myself and with others and wouldn’t have found myself mired down in frustrating situations.

It’s hard to unlearn…to retrain…to begin again. It’s like trying to be left-handed when all I know is right-handedness.

But, I know this is not all up to me.  God’s Spirit is within me as Guide, Teacher, Comforter, Convicter, Encourager….

As I think back on last week, I can see where God’s Spirit checked me several times.  It’s a comfort to know that even when I’m not aware, God’s Spirit is.  And, even when I forget, God’s Spirit remembers…stays on task…is ever working to bring out God’s best in me and through me.

34 days into Lent I find myself wishing I could scroll back time and begin anew with all this Lenten knowledge and experience intact.  I can’t do that, of course, but I can continue on from this moment forward leaning into loving God supremely and acting on that love in such a way that honors God, those around me, and myself as well.

Pearls before Swine

24 days into Lent – the farther in I go, the more I realize how far I have to yet to go.

40 days is not going to be enough time.  I don’t think 80 would.

I’m not even sure 40 years would be enough time.

Choosing that which pleases and honors God (instead of others/myself) should be an easy thing.  But old habits die hard.

Perhaps if I could take these 40 days of Lent and go off by myself to meditate uninterruptedly and away from life as I know it…perhaps then….

No…I doubt even then.

My mind and my life seem so cluttered with inconsequential thoughts and things.  These occupy more time than they should and distract me when focus should be on more important things.

Scripture says …cast not pearls before swine….

Pearls before swine….

I wonder if I’m casting my pearls before swine.  Ha – before I asked the question I knew the answer was “YES!”

Maybe there’s more to this verse* than is immediately implied by the context – don’t give what’s holy to dogs or cast your pearls before swine or they will trample them underfoot and turn and tear you to pieces.

Pearls before swine.

What would I consider my pearls?  And, what would be “swine” in my life?

Pearls would be that which is truly precious and of value to me and to others…that which has the power/ability to do the greatest good and accomplish the most to benefit self and others.

What about swine?  What piggy things do I focus on that gulp my time and resources and leave me hurting/anxious/messed up in some way?

Perhaps I need to make a list of my pearls (precious/valuable/worthy of the time and effort devoted) and a list of the swine (time wasters, emotion gobblers, resource devourers) in my life.

Jesus said that we are not to cast our pearls before swine.  He also said why – they will trample our pearls underfoot with no appreciation for what’s offered and then they will turn on us in attack…tearing us apart.

Swine don’t appreciate the value of what’s given or understand the sacrifice of what’s offered.  They see no good in it (can’t eat it) or benefit to themselves, so they turn on the giver in an attack that seeks to destroy and devour.

Hmm….

Do you feel fragmented…scattered…torn into pieces…ragged…frustrated…? Do you find that there are “swine” in your life that eat up your resources and offer you little, if anything, in return?

Perhaps, like me, it’s PBS (Pearls Before Swine) related.

  • Define your pearls.
  • Define the swine.
  • Figure out what’s tearing you apart and stop casting your pearls there.
  • Let your priority be: pearls before swine.  Take care of the important things first, those that move you forward, that add value to your life and meaning to your actions.
  • Understand that swine, IF you allow them to be a part of your life, are there for a reason and one reason only – to benefit you in some way…bacon, pork chops, ham, BBQ….

Take care of pearls before swine and make certain you don’t cast any pearls their way.  It’s a total waste of good you, if you do.

Jesus said so.

 

*Matthew 7:6

 

 

23 Days into Lent = Fail

Here it is…5 a.m. and I’m up and on the computer well before my usual time.

Driven from bed by a mind that wouldn’t quiet once awakened, I welcome the solitude of an alone awakening.

I need this opportunity to be silent before God and to reflect upon where I am and why I am…and how I got here.

My jaw clenches and I am unaware until a dull ache begins in my left ear and extends along my jaw, toward my chin.

I’m angry.  Tense. Stressed. Tired.

Here I am 23 days into Lent and I find myself off track…way off track.  Hey, I’ll be honest – I’ve jumped track.

I’m supposed to be seeking to please God and not people.  I’ve got the “not people” thing down as far as “other” people go.  But, I’ve slipped into pleasing myself…doing what seems right in my own eyes instead of doing what is right in God’s eyes.

Wow.  There’s only one word to describe my Lenten experience at this moment.

FAIL

I’m halfway into Lent and I’ve run myself off track and about as far away from the goal as I could possibly be.  I’ve turned from God’s way to my own.

In my boundary setting, I allowed myself the luxury of anger.  It was easy to adopt a “serves them right” attitude as I took steps to distance myself from negative, stress-filled, idiotic situations and the people who perpetrate and perpetuate them.

Pleasing myself became more important than pausing to see what would please God.

I would be the master of my destiny, the ruler of my kingdom. Forget what people thought…or if they even liked my thoughts, words, or me. They would respect me and would not dare encroach upon me or mine with their stupidity…. I would rule.

What an angry, self-centered ruler I am.

For the past week my focus has been on pleasing myself.  How did I get so far afield…?

Perhaps I focused on what I felt instead of what I should be feeling.

Perhaps I focused on self and not on God.

For whatever reason(s), I went astray.

All we like sheep have gone astray.  We have turned – every one – to his own way. But, the Lord has laid on him the iniquity (sins) of us all. Isaiah 53:6.

This morning, as I sat up in bed and swung my feet over the edge, my mind cried out for relief.

“I want to let go of it!” she cried out in the darkness.

I’m tired…tense…stressed…angry…confused and uncertain.  So much is coming at me that I cannot process it before the next surge.  I feel like a child caught in the surf.  One wave hits and knocks me off balance and then before I can right myself and get my footing, another comes along and takes me down. And, while I’m down, another pounds down upon me….

My focus is so intent on all that’s swirling around me…all the concerns I carry…that I cannot still myself and focus on the One I need to see.

Anger is my reaction.  Love should be my action.

Forgive me, Father, for my righteous indignation.  You alone are righteous and you alone have the right to become indignant. Forgive me for my anger and for seeking my will and not Yours. Forgive my anxious thoughts and my lack of faith. Bless me with Your forgiveness…Your peace, for I have sinned against you…I know this and I am deeply sorry and repent.

Repent – that means to turn around and go the other way.

Peace – that was our pastor’s sermon Sunday.  God’s peace. I took copious notes…wonderful notes and watched in dismay as my ipad deleted them .  I need those notes this morning.

I need God’s peace.

Wait…I have God’s Spirit within me.  God’s Spirit – the Comforter – the Teacher who brings all things we’ve learned of God and from His word to mind.

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6,7 NLT)

God’s peace begins at the cross of Jesus.

Forgiveness and Boundaries

When someone offends us…harms us in some way, what’s our response?

Dismay / confusion?

Emotional outburst / anger?

Strike back / attack?

Pull back / disengage?

Set boundaries / protect?

Forgive / show mercy?

Perhaps, like me, you often experience this full list.

As a Christian, I often find it difficult to know how to respond…how to react when surprised by an untoward comment, a hurtful action, an intended injury.

Jesus said we are to turn the other cheek, go the extra mile.  He also said we are to love and give and be willing to forgive**.

I know what it is to turn the other cheek.  And, I also know what it’s like to be slapped again on the cheek offered.  I’ve gone the extra mile and found that with some people the extra mile offered is never enough.  I’ve offered kindness and had my head handed to me on a platter.

We are to live peacefully with all people as much as it is within our power to do so.

This is where boundaries come in. They offer protection when we live and work within them. Laws tell us what we can do and what others cannot do to us. The Bible teaches us that we are to live within the law and honor our government.

These laws as well as Jesus’ teachings instruct us and give us permission to have personal boundaries*.

Jesus said, “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.” (Matthew 7:6)  That sounds like a boundary to me – what do you think?

Having healthy boundaries and maintaining them can prevent a lot of the drama we find ourselves drawn into  So can respecting the boundaries of others.

We set boundaries to define where we stop and another begins. Our boundaries identify us.

Jesus had boundaries, too. Scan through any of the Gospel books and you will find Jesus identified by His boundaries.

But, unlike with us – His boundaries didn’t keep people out.  His boundaries invited the true seeker in while filtering out all the nonsense. (Oh, to be able to filter out all the nonsense!)

Jesus’ boundaries defined Him.

Jesus was beaten, mocked, scourged, spit on, abused physically and mentally – and He threw up no boundaries to protect Himself.  He offered no defense, did not take up arms.  No – through it all Jesus begged God to forgive his abusers.  Forgive them, forgive them, forgive them…don’t zap them, don’t pulverize them, don’t stop them, don’t punish them…. Forgive them.

Why? Because he looked beyond His pain and saw my need.  He saw my need of a Savior.  And, the only way that need could be met was to see things through. To forgive and move forward – to the cross, in death, by resurrecting….

Jesus forgave those who hurt him because of His great love – for me…for you…for all of us.

Jesus’ boundaries give us a clear view of His identity.

What do your boundaries tell others about you?

*More about personal boundaries

**More about forgiveness

(This marks my 21st day into my Lenten journey.)

Setting Boundaries – Day 17 of Lent

God set boundaries.

Don’t believe me?  Go to the coast and mark how far the waves wash inland.  God said this far and no farther. (Job 38)

And, God expects us to set boundaries as well.

This is not a new concept to me.  As a child, I knew where the boundaries were.  They kept me safe and others safe from me.

A hedge row that encircled our yard marked the end of my domain and the beginning of my parent’s.

Within boundaries, certain things are allowed.  And, within those same boundaries certain things are not allowed.

Boundaries are good.

Boundaries define.

Boundaries defend.

Boundaries delineate.

Without boundaries anything goes. Confusion reigns. Drama prevails. There is no you / me…it’s all we. And, we become entangled in whatever pull is strongest at the moment…whatever cry is loudest…whatever need seems greatest….

In yesterday’s post, a section of Philippians 2 was shared.  Here’s an abbreviated portion.

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:4)

Please note – it does not say look only to the interests of others.  It says “look…also to the interests of others.”  ALSO implies I’m to look at my own interests first – in fact the first part of the verse says “look not only” to your own interests.

I’ve not looked to my own interests…I’ve neglected them.  My focus has been fully on the needs and interests of others.  That’s not God honoring or God pleasing.

Boundaries.

I set some last week and even more this week. For my own sanity, peace of mind and personal health I said, “this far and no more.”

Some boundaries are set for temporary purposes (like barriers set up for parades) and others with more permanent intention.

If you bump up against a boundary that you didn’t expect or didn’t see the last time you entered the area known as “me” don’t take it personally…it isn’t intended as a personal affront. Take it as an indication of love – for you and for myself, too.

For, you see…I know me better than you know me and I know where my boundaries need to lie in this moment in my journey.

And, my Lenten journey is not about pleasing you, it’s about pleasing God.

16 Days into Lent

This Lenten journey has been unlike my first and only other.

The first (2013) changed me in a way I didn’t expect.  Well, actually, I expected NO real change to occur.  I thought I might come out of Lent feeling stronger and more capable of self control but that was all I thought could happen from my experience.

What did happen is that my taste changed. Ketchup now tastes dirty…nasty…disagreeable to me.

This Lenten journey, much more is at play than a simple ketchup fast. In some ways I wish it were as simple.

Living my life in a manner that seeks the approval of God rather than that of people around me is a stretch that I thought I could easily make (with God’s help, of course). But, I am finding that seeking the approval of people is something I automatically do…have done since childhood. It’s what I’ve been taught…trained…coached to do – and to be.

Home, church, school, play…pleasing people and keeping them happy made life seem easier and if I could do so within the bounds God set, then it was a win-win. Or, so I thought.

I suppose in some ways it’s what’s kept me on the straight and narrow path of conformity to what’s expected of me.

All too often I ask myself:

  • Will my actions offend so and so?
  • What will they think of me?
  • Will they understand where I’m coming from?
  • Should I explain myself…my intentions?
  • Do I need to share why I didn’t…?
  • How should I approach them?
  • How should I phrase my words?
  • What if they don’t like me anymore?
  • What if I’m misunderstood?

What I should ask myself is:

  • Will my actions please God?
  • What will God think of what I do?
  • Am I bringing honor to God’s name?
  • Are my words bringing glory to God?
  • Am I creating a path that others can follow to God?
  • Do my actions and attitudes prevent others from finding God?

What I need is a new mindset. (Note in particular that which is underlined.)

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,  but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  (Philippians 2:1-11 ESV)

Hmm….

Paul also said:

…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life…. (Philippians 2:12b-16a)

With this in mind I head back into living life and embracing more fully what God has for me this Lenten season.

The Swing Season

Two sunny, 70+ degree days opened this week with the promise of Spring.

By midweek the cold nasties had returned and the only memory of the glory of those days was a sunburn.

Today, well…the sun will shine and as it climbs higher in the sky the earth will warm to about 67.  With a stout wind blowing it will feel much cooler.

Ah well…that’s okay.  It’s not yet Spring, and won’t be for another week.  Just as Spring has her Winters, I suppose Winter is allowed to have her Springs.  (Lisa Patton, my favorite weathercaster at WKRN, calls this the Swing Season.)

Eleven days into my Lenten journey, I find myself frustrated for it seems I am in a swing season of sorts…I stay on course for a little while and then I crash and burn. The sun comes out and I find my way again and then a storm knocks me off course and Winter’s blasts force me to take shelter.

I am so accustomed to saying and doing what’s expected of me that I find myself on autopilot…acting and reacting in the heat of the moment.  It’s only after the fact that I come to myself and wonder what got into me and why?

Habit? Personality? Preference? I don’t know upon which hook to hang it.

Self led, most definitely…surely not Spirit led.  It’s a struggle to reign self in…to control that self within that desires to dominate me, rule me, regulate me, control what I say…do…think…how I act.

Situations arise for which I’m totally unprepared…don’t have time or resources to deal with, yet there they are and I’m left with the choice of how I respond.

Off the cuff…on the fly…in the heat of the moment…I often react.  The situation calls for an immediate response, quick decision – there’s no time to pause and think things through.

When the need is immediate, the response should be as well.

Isn’t that right?  It’s what people expect.

Wait…”what people expect”…that smacks of pleasing people and seeking the approval of others.

Instead of reacting in the way I’m expected to, I should pause in spite of the apparent immediacy of the matter and ask myself, “What would Jesus have me say and do?”

Meeting the expectations of others – that’s something I struggle with.  It’s not that I want to be liked.  I feel responsible for others who find their way into my sphere of influence. They expect something of me and I don’t like to disappoint.  No…it’s more than that…my self worth is to some degree wrapped up in who others see me to be.

No matter how I argue…it all circles back to what people think of me…how they think of me. Swing Season is in full swing for me…wow.

This is what my Lenten journey is all about this year…digging out that thing within me that craves the approval of others…that thinks it needs that to live fully.

I can think back on every day this week and see where I have looked to people for approval, for meaning, for fulfillment, for definition – whether by habit or by choice – instead of determining the right thing and asking myself how Jesus would have me respond.

In looking at the life of Jesus and reading the words attributed to Him, it’s easy to see He was able to cut to the heart of the matter.  Perhaps it’s because He saw through all the stuff and knew immediately what the heart of the matter was.  Ah, for the wisdom and ability to be able to do that.

It would end a lot of frustration on my part and free me from idiotic conversations that go no where, resolve nothing, and eat up precious time and resources.

Please, God…teach me how to deal with those things that fall into the category of immediacy…give me wisdom,  give me insight, give me words and clear thinking. Forgive me for allowing Self to react when I should have been acting on Your behalf.